By Hannah Claire Brimelow
A former high school cheerleader’s expletive filled rant on popular app Snapchat has altered the state of free speech in America.
The Supreme Court ruling on June 23rd, 2021 marked the first time the nation’s highest court has made a decision pertaining to speech online.
Mahanoy vs B.L will join other notorious cases, such as Tinker vs Des Moines and Morse vs Frederick, that marked clear changes in the public understanding of students’ rights to Free Speech.
“The court held that high school student Brandi Levy was unconstitutionally disciplined by Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania after she posted a profanity-laced Snapchat rant when she failed to make the varsity cheer squad, proclaiming “f— school f— softball f— cheer f— everything,” reports the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Questions regarding what type of language are worth protecting, as well as where a school’s authority begins and ends in regards to the private activities of its students were at the heart of this case.
In his majority opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote “It might be tempting to dismiss B. L.’s words as unworthy of the robust First Amendment protections discussed herein. But sometimes it is necessary to protect the superfluous in order to preserve the necessary.”
Engadget’s K. Bell reports “In its decision, the Supreme Court left open questions about exactly how social media affects how those lines should be drawn. The ruling made more of the fact that the speech took place off-campus and not during a school function, rather than how the comments were made. Though in a separate, concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito noted that a school would have authority over what students say while participating in online learning or other “online school activities.”
Clare Norins, the director of University of Georgia School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic and an assistant clinical professor, echoes this uncertainty saying “the decision leaves students and their parents in limbo as to when, exactly, schools can reach into their homes, their personal social media, or their leisure activities to punish young people for what they say.”
Brandi Levy was 14 years-old when she filmed her tirade at a convenience store off campus after she did not make the varsity cheerleading squad. Although Snapchat message only last for 24 hours, a screenshot of the post was shown to one of her coaches. She was suspended from the team for a year. The ACLU supported Levy and her parent’s legal battle.
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